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”Luckily you don’t have to know everything to get by on a foreign language”

An Interview with the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki Course Planner for Foreign Languages Niina Kerppola

How did you end up as a Course Planner at the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki?

English was my favourite subject in school, and I learned a lot more from the music I listened to and from the music magazines I read, and by speaking English at every possible opportunity. After the au pair year I spent in London I ended up studying English philology at the University of Helsinki, where I also studied pedagogy to become a teacher, ”just in case”. Already during my study years I began to teach English to adults and acted as a substitute teacher at all class levels. Around the time or my graduation I got a job at the Institute of Adult education in Helsinki as Course Planner for foreign languages and English teacher.

What does your work entail, and what is the nicest thing about it?

In addition to planning and teaching my own English classes my work entails study guidance for foreign languages, course planning and partial administration, aquisition and coordinating study materials, acting as supervisor to part-time teachers, meetings and professional training. My work is pleasantly versatile, and it has two things that are the most rewarding: I get to work with the English language and with adult students and teachers, who are always so pleasant!

What language courses does the Institute offer?

The course selection is very versatile, we offer courses in 15 different languages. You can choose from different skill levels and different course types from basics to travel, from discussion courses to working life language, and also degree courses in English and Swedish. Some courses you can take partially or wholly as a distant learner flexibly via the internet. In language courses we encourage right from the beginning to corageously use the languge also verbally by simulating everyday speaking situations. So from just one basic course the student gains valuable skills for, for example, travelling!

How can one pick the most suitable course?

Study guidance provides advice for finding the appropriate skill level and course type. Our foreign language courses are open for all adults regardless of age or gender, without preliminary tests. The foreign language courses focus on everyday language, so studying is benefcial for all who need foreign languages for example at work, in studying, while travelling, with friends and family. Spoken communication is key, without forgetting the base in grammar and culture. Versatile study methods, the use of modern techology as a teaching aid and encouraging and motivating teachers inspire the student to corageously use the language.

What kind of phenomena have you observed in studying languages during your career?

Senior foreign language studens may at first be a little grammar oriented and hence be shy about speaking, and listening can often be difficult, too. These difficulties, of course, stem from the fact that in their school days language teaching was mostly grammar and translation. Even the slightest mistake with an article was cause for major minus points ;). Fortunately the view of teaching has changed and pedagogical methods have developed over the years towards genuine communication, so that studying languages  has become a pleasant and genuinely rewarding experience! The younger students may often master speaking and listening better because of travelling, the internet and video games, but they don’t necessarily know grammar as well as the older students.

What kinds of challenges may arise in adult education?

The most common challenge is probably the lack of time, which can limit participation and investment in courses. Language skills unfortunately also become rusty with time, but this can be helped with a small, weekly exercise by speaking, listening, and/or writing something that interests and motivates the student. Learning can, of course, become slower with age, but in that case it pays to be gentle with yourself and study only a moderate number of things. Luckily you don’t have to know everything to get by on a foreign language!

What is the incentive to study languages as an adult?

Our adult students have different reasons for studying languages. Language skills maintenance takes relatively regular practice by talking, listening, reading and writing. Taking a language course is a good motivational tool for this. Learning a new language as an adult gives meaning and joy to one’s life, and a sense of community and social interaction. Nothing boosts one’s linguistic self esteem more than noticing you can manage different communication situations both in the classroom and an actual target country with a speaker of the target language!

Explore the Institute’s language courses and sign up: https://opistopalvelut.fi/helsinginaikuisopisto/index.php

Written by Kristiina Hentunen